This afternoon I submitted my comments on the AEA’s proposed code of conduct and interim report. You have until March 15th to do the same here. I thought I would go ahead and share my comments below. Maybe this will spur other ideas for you to submit to the AEA … or you are welcome to reply with “what Claudia said” if you like.
Please, please take time to submit your comments.
Thank you to everyone who got us to this point of submitting comments on specific proposals. I had expressed pessimism on my blog last summer and am encouraged by the response of the economics community so far. Even so, for the code and other proposals to lead to meaningful change, we will need sustained, broad-based efforts.
Comments on the code:
- I agree with spirit of the first three paragraphs of the code, setting it squarely within the mission of the American Economic Association. Some have argued that the AEA is not in a position to push back against behavior on a private website or that civil discourse can be sacrificed. It is important for the code to clearly rebut those arguments.
- I am concerned that the “equal treatment” and “equal opportunity” section will be used to defend the status quo. For example, Antecol, Bedard, and Stearns (2018) found that gender-neutral tenure clock adjustments benefited men over women. It would also be helpful in this section to state clearly that economics is currently far from this goal. In addition, the listing of “protected groups” could be counterproductive. Some may argue for additional groups like gender identity or political party affiliation. An alternate approach would be to simply state the goal: economic arguments should be evaluated respectfully on their scientific merits and not on the personal characteristics or affiliations of the economist.
- The code ‘nailed the landing’ with its final paragraph. It is essential that we accept both individual and collective responsibility as professional economists. The silent bystanders need to speak up when they see problematic behavior.
Comments on the report:
- The intention to make sure that AEA journals follow the code is a good one. It might be useful to run experiments at one of the journals or with a portion of the ASSA sessions. Empirical evidence on what works and what doesn’t would likely increase buy-in from economists and could establish best practices for other journals and conferences.
- It is important that the leadership of the AEA is more representative of its members, including liberal arts colleges, government, and private sector economists, not just a handful of research universities.
- A survey of the AEA membership is a good first step to assessing the status quo and the room for improvement. Please utilize experts in survey methodology as well as those with experience running surveys of economists and diversity efforts. A well-designed survey could be used both to survey members in general and to establish a baseline in specific environments that run experiments. Cognitive interviews and pre-testing can insure that the questions are working as expected before fielding the survey. Administrative, objective data is important to collect but so are more subjective, qualitative data. Please make sure the survey is run through the AEA and not pushed down to one of the diversity subcommittees. It is important to make sure response rates are high across various sub-populations of economists. One idea to raise participation would be to make it mandatory for registration at the ASSA meetings or for submitting to an AEA journal.
- An assessment of seminar culture is important and should be done scientifically. The effect of the climate on participants is important, not just the outward interactions. The design of the study needs to be aware of the Hawthorne effect and confirmation bias of the data collectors. Please engage experts in communication outside of economics.
- The steps to address bias are a good starting point. Please utilize resources like Diversifying Economic Quality and existing research. To encourage and support further research in reducing bias, the AEA could set aside publication space in one of its journals and/or have a standing session at the ASSA on bias.
- Addressing and replacing EJMR is going to take concerted efforts in education and in providing alternate outlets for sharing information. An anonymous, online message board is not good for the economics profession. Personnel information is sensitive and sharing it without authorization runs afoul of most employers’ human resource policies. Accusations of intellectual dishonesty should be taken seriously not turned into sport. Finally libelous speech, harassment, and stalking on a website and in personal interactions is a very serious concern. Telling those affected to ignore the comments or to have a thicker skin is not a solution. Punishments for continued bad behavior need to be spelled out. Experts in mediation and legal treatment of harassment should help in crafting the new policies.
PS To keep my comments under the 750 word limit, I had to trim back some. For example, I had written in my intro: “Also after many years of turning a blind eye to bad behavior in the economic profession, an apology from the AEA to those who have put up with the crap and to the ‘missing economists’ who have left the profession would be welcome.” On reflection, ‘we are sorry’ is not enough … we have to do better. Recently I have been encouraging other women to enter economics and I simply want better for the next generation.